Jewish community commemorates Kristallnacht in wake of Pittsburgh tragedy

Jewish community commemorates Kristallnacht in wake of Pittsburgh tragedy
Tamara Reps Freeman performed songs of the Holocaust with children of Cogregation L'dor V'dor. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

Jewish congregations on the North Shore gathered on Sunday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” which many mark as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jewish people that occurred from Nov. 9-10, 1938. Nazis torched synagogues in Germany and ransacked Jewish homes. About 100 Jews were killed.

This year’s memorial services held an additional meaning, with congregation members mourning the loss of 11 members of the Jewish community who were killed in a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.

Congregation L’dor V’dor hosted the event, “Music of the Holocaust: Songs of Hope, Fortitude and Spiritual Resistance,” in partnership with Marathon Jewish Center and Temple Torah.

The showcased speaker was Tamara Reps Freeman, a violist and ethnomusicologist who focuses on Yiddish songs from the Holocaust.

The original owner of the viola she played was Tauba Botzel, a Holocaust victim who died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942 at the age of 77.

After Botzel was captured by the Nazis, a neighbor rescued the viola and managed to ship it to New Jersey, where Botzel’s sister was living.

The musical instrument was specially made for the original owner’s small hands, which is what contributed to it landing in the petite hands of Freeman.  

She performed compositions that were produced by the victims of the Holocaust.

Through the music she performed, Freeman memorialized the Holocaust but her presence also connected the congregation to more recent acts of anti-Semitism.

“The Pittsburgh tragedy is very personal to me,” she said. “My parents were married at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Aug. 10, 1958.”

It was the first synagogue she attended, the one that she was born into.

“While we didn’t lose any blood relatives during that terrible tragedy, for all of us it feels that way,” she said.

At Temple Israel in Great Neck, Holocaust survivor Werner Reich spoke with congregation members about his experience during the Holocaust.

Reich was born in Germany, where he lived until his family fled to Yugoslavia, shortly after Kristallnacht.

He believes the Holocaust started long before Kristallnacht.

Werner Reich speaks with congregation members about his experiences during the Holocaust at Temple Israel. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

In 1933, when Jews began having their rights taken away is “when my Holocaust started,” Reich said.

That year, his father, who was an electrical engineer, lost his job and Reich and his sister were no longer allowed to attend school.

After leaving for Yugoslavia, his family was captured by the Nazis once they invaded the country.

Reich survived imprisonment at multiple concentration camps, including Auschwitz II.

He began speaking to audiences once his grandson was born because he wanted to make sure that his grandson never experienced the same hardship.  

“As long as I can do it, I want to do everything in my power to prevent something like this from happening again,” Reich said.

Last year, Reich spoke 96 times.

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